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Kristina Kallas not predicting long life for Center Party

Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200).
Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Commenting on the apparent disintegration of the Center Party, Kristina Kallas, Eesti 200 Vice Chair Kristina Kallas, said Center party would not have a long life if it only represents the interests of Russian-speaking voters. Kallas does not see a change to the current government coalition as being on the cards.

"In the short term, the coalition's leverage has actually increased, and everything the coalition agrees on and does has at least five more votes in the Riigikogu now," Kallas told ERR.

According to Kallas, in the longer term, the question of what will become of the Center Party remains open.

"If it is now losing its main focus on the center-left and turns into a party of the Russian-speaking minority, which  would very clearly make it a niche party, then I don't predict a long life for it," Kallas said.

"Sooner or later, these types of parties have died out pretty quickly in Estonia. The Estonian geopolitical context is quite different from that in Finland, for example, where the Swedish-Finns always play a key role," she added.

Kallas stressed that a party representing only Russian-speakers in the Estonian political system has no strategic chance of gaining power or forming a government coalition.

"This is simply the reality in Estonia. It could perhaps exist somewhere with a minimum of votes, but would be very marginal, and sooner or later Russian voters would probably walk away from the party, which is why it would never succeed in getting into power," Kallas said.

"It's really about what the Russian-speaking voters do. I think it's an opportunity for all parties to rethink their policies. Everybody has a chance to attract the Russian-speaking voters. This is because  Russian-speaking voters are much more diverse than they were 20 years ago," Kallas said.

According to Kallas, there is also a question surrounding the disappearance of the center-left niche.

Kallas believes governing coalition will not change

Former Center Party members joining up with the Social Democratic Party (SDE) will change the dynamics of the governing coalition. While previously it would have been theoretically possible to form an alternative coalition involving just the Reform Party and the Eesti 200 (52 votes), another alternative coalition is now possible, between the Reform Party and the Social Democratic Party (51 votes).

According to Kallas however, this does not worry Eesti 200.

"51 and 52 votes are too few to make a coalition. I don't see this as a very likely scenario. Because the reforms that need to be made over the coming year are so difficult and complicated that 51 or 52 votes either way will not be enough to get them done. On the other hand, 68 or 69 votes is really strong enough to get these reforms done. So, I think it is very clear strategically which coalition is able deliver these plans," she said.

According to Kallas, Estonia is in a situation where without such reforms it will not be possible to overcome the coming crises ahead.

"Inside the coalition, all parties have disagreed on a very wide range of issues. It is just that, up to now, Eesti 200 have avoided communicating these disagreements very much externally. We try to resolve them within the coalition. The Social Democratic Party (SDE) have had a slightly different approach. But if they are now taking the position of being against everything all the time, then there is really no point in being in a coalition if you are against everything. We still have a working plan on how we are going to proceed with this coalition and I assume that this work plan will not change too radically," Kallas said.

Kallas: In Tallinn, chances of coalition change are higher.

Kallas noted that in contrast to the government coalition, she believes the coalition in the City of Tallinn may be more likely to change.

"The ever-weakening Center Party, which is likely to become more and more of a municipal party, clinging on to power in Tallinn and Narva, is not very viable. It would not be able to lead well and bring about change in Tallinn, because that is its channel of survival. So, I would predict that this might give the SDE food for thought here, regarding whether to continue in this kind of coalition or to change course in Tallinn, which could bring a completely new spirit to Tallinn's governance," Kallas said.

Kallas also said that she had already met with Jaak Aab. During the conversation it became clear that there were differences in outlook, which made it logical for him to join the SDE. "Although there were also very many points on which we agreed," said Kallas.

On Friday, members of the Center Party's Riigikogu group Tanel Kiik, Jaak Aab, Andre Hanimägi and Ester Karuse all announced that they would be leaving to join the SDE. Enn Eesmaa and Kersti Sarapuu also left the Center Party, though neither will join another party.

Following the election of Mihhail Kõlvart Center Party leader on September 10 (Kõlvart narrowly dfeated Kiik by 543 votes to 489), former Tallinn mayor and government minister Taavi Aas, along with several other party members, opted to leave.

Riigikogu MPs Tõnis Mölder and Jaanus Karilaid both previously left the party to join Isamaa.

In mid-November, Riigikogu MP Maria Jufereva-Skuratovski also left the Center Party and joined Reform.

The Center Party won 15.3 percent of the vote in the March 2023 Riigikogu elections, earning 16 seats in parliament. This was 10 less than four years before. There are now only seven members of Center's Riigikogu group who remain members of the party.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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